Reactions to Willow Creek’s “Confession”
I am reminded of one of Ellen White’s statements: “If numbers were evidence of success, Satan might claim the pre-eminence; for in this world his followers are largely in the majority. It is the degree of moral power pervading the college that is a test of its prosperity. It is the virtue, intelligence, and piety of the people composing our churches, not their numbers, that should be a source of joy and thankfulness” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 31, 32).
The two articles about Willow Creek are interesting, but I fear they will cause Adventists to feel smug that most of our churches are not like Willow Creek. Before being judgmental about Willow Creek, it would be well to ask ourselves if our churches are reaching more lost people than Willow Creek. If not, we should not be overly-critical of those whose goals we share simply because they try different methods to reach the lost. Too many of us are so afraid of doing the wrong thing that we don’t do anything.
We can learn from Willow Creek in spite of its “failure.” A major strength of Willow Creek is bringing masses to Christ (the main thing), while our strength is bringing people to doctrine (secondary). Willow Creek is miles ahead of us in getting members involved in ministry.
So before we get cocky and say “I told you so,” let’s take the log out of our own eye. We have plenty of failures to acknowledge without focusing on those of others. It may be that while Willow Creek certainly needs to make some tweaks, we are blind and indifferent to our urgent need for major reconstruction.
Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Willow Creek, never said, as the author implies, that making church seeker sensitive is incompatible with deep expository preaching or teaching people to read their Bibles and pray. All he admitted was Willow Creek’s struggle to do so.
Admitting that isn’t shocking; celebrating it is. The author could have made the same points Hybels emphasized: namely, that helping those far from God get closer is a good thing and so is teaching them to feed themselves.
I am deeply saddened by your reprinting of two articles on Willow Creek Community Church’s “Shocking Confession.” As an innovator, as a church-planter who is deeply committed to the Adventist Church and the Three Angels’ Message, as well as innovation, creativity, reaching the lost, and new methods of ministry, I am saddened that these articles were printed by my Adventist publication.
As someone who has tried to take ideas from a multitude of places--Willow Creek, Saddleback, and others--I have often found that since we as a denomination don’t agree with the theology or all the methods of these “mega-churches” we throw out everything they have done and learned, turn up our noses in theological superiority, and decry their “shallowness.”
Claiming they are shallow salves our discomfort that they are growing faster than we are and makes us feel better that our evangelistic efforts bring in single- to double-digit numbers of baptisms. It makes us feel like the minority that is persecuted, yet somehow better than others.
I’ve been to Willow Creek. It isn’t perfect, but it is not as shallow as we think. Bill Hybels in a recent article in Christianity Today said about church leadership: “But as church leaders, what do we tell prospective church members? ‘You’re a depraved, degenerate sinner who’s in trouble for all eternity unless you get squared away with Christ.’ (And that’s the good news. We call it the gospel.)
“Then we say, ‘We’re going to ask you to commit five or six hours a week to service and two or three additional hours for training and discipleship. We’re going to ask you to get in a small group where your character flaws are going to get exposed and chiseled at. We’re going to ask you to come under the authority of the elders of the church and give a minimum of 10 percent of your money. Oh, yeah, you get no parking place, no reserved seats, no special privileges, no voting rights, no vacation or retirement program. You serve till you die. But trust us: God’s going to make it right in eternity.”
I don’t know many Adventist churches that ask their members to make that level of commitment to their local church body, to commit to regular service, and put people under that type of accountability? Is this really commercial Christianity?
But what concerns me most about reprinting these articles is how many will mis-use them. I was at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit when Bill Hybels and his executive pastor talked personally about their journey. They aren’t leaving everything behind and saying their ministry was a waste. I saw it as them taking an honest look at what they’ve been doing, identifying their weaknesses, and being brave enough with 20,000 members (more than my conference and several conferences near it!) to make changes. I applaud them for looking at the hard questions of the effectiveness of their ministry. (See the videos at http://www.revealnow.com/story.asp?storyid=31
Yet already people who seem to be against innovation, against creativity, against doing ministry in a contemporary way, use articles like this to point out that “seeker sensitivity” and anything that comes from these churches is wrong, ineffective, and invalid. They won’t look into the truth of what these churches have done.
I wish the Adventist Review would have published articles applauding a courageous decision to get honest about evaluating ministry; something every local congregation should do.
Please do not add fuel to the fires of those who Ellen White might have been talking about when she said: “God has men whom He will call into His service, men who will not carry forward the work in the lifeless way in which it has been carried forward in the past. Many who have not yet heard the message to be given to the world have learned the meaning of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Men will come into the truth who will work with earnestness and zeal, tact and understanding. Let none discourage these zealous workers. In some things they will make some mistakes, and will need to be corrected and instructed. But have not men who have been longer in the truth made mistakes, and needed correction and instruction? When they made mistakes, the Lord did not cast them off, but healed them and strengthened them, presenting them with His banner to hold aloft” (Reflecting Christ, p. 242).
White also wrote: “God selects His messengers, and gives them His message; and He says, ‘Forbid them not.’ New methods must be introduced. God’s people must awaken to the necessity of the time in which they are living” (Ibid.)
Thank you for reading my short epistle. I do enjoy being kept up to date through your email newsletter. This one just hit a sore spot.
Thank you for writing about our recent AR Online opinion pieces that focused on the remarkable events occurring at Willow Creek Community Church.
The Adventist Review always attempts, as the old JMV pledge put it, to “keep a level eye”—to survey what is happening in the Adventist Church or in other faith communities from the perspective of Bible teaching and principle rather than fad or trendiness. Thus, the Review was careful not to jump on the Willow Creek bandwagon some years ago when many Adventist pastors and leaders were strongly encouraging their members to adopt approaches taught and modeled at Willow Creek, or even to affiliate with the Willow Creek Association, as dozens of congregations did.
We did not just observe from a distance, however: one of our editors attended a Willow Creek training seminar nearly 10 years ago and reported on it, and numerous Adventist pastors and authors have shared their impressions of seminars they attended at the megachurch.
The recent acknowledgement by Willow Creek senior pastor Bill Hybels that the results of the church’s own self-study were “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing” (his words) underscores the dangers that accompany any project not grounded in discipleship principles emerging from the Word of God.
Hybels’ words deserve highlighting, for they helpfully point back to the principles which this magazine has always stood for: “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
There is no satisfaction in pointing out Willow Creek’s public acknowledgement of misdirected effort, for tens of thousands of earnest believers, including many Adventists, have been distracted by the approaches urged on the Evangelical community by this very influential megachurch. The Adventist Review remains committed to providing readers with candid, helpful information that will help them evaluate current practices and trends from a distinctly biblical perspective.
Thanks for dialoguing with us about the things that truly matter.–Editors
It Can Happen Here
Rarely do I read the Adventist Review
without mining gold, but the article, “Abuse in the Adventist Church?
(Oct. 11, 2007), truly shook me up. I had no clue as to the extent of abuse that exists in our congregations.
I do recall a classic case of spousal abuse in one of the churches I attended. A local elder physically harmed his wife, yet when confronted with her testimony and evidence, he was unaware of his abuse, believing he was merely carrying out his husbandly and Bible-oriented duty. Education and more sermons are essential to shed light on this important problem.
In studying the various categories of abuse, I failed to find mention in the article about one form of abuse I believe to be prevalent and important: the sin of neglect. A man might spend most of his time at home watching football games on television while completely tuning out his family. I know a popular Pathfinder leader who was successful planning and executing outings for the group, yet who rarely spent any time with his wife or his own children. Eventually his wife divorced him. Most of the abuse listed in the article is due to lack of love, and neglect is one of the worst evidences of that lack. Neglect should surely be included as an important component of abuse.
Frank B. Waldorf, M.D.
I cannot thank you enough for the article, “Abuse in the Adventist Church?” Unfortunately, I could check off all but two of the survey items of abuse in my first marriage.
When I finally got enough courage to leave my abusive husband, who had begun hitting me in front of our two babies, the main obstacle was support. Well-meaning church members urged me not to divorce him or press charges, but to pray for God to restore the marriage. I was also told he was too soft-spoken and charming to be “like that.” I went to court again and again--alone. I slept in my car for a while. I cried myself to sleep at night, hungry and alone. I screamed in the shower and thought often of taking my own life. It was a long, difficult, lonesome journey. I prayed daily for God to take my misery away.
This article is going to be a blessing to so many. I pray that countless readers will take it to heart and take action. I think of the words of Habakkuk 1:2: “I cry out to you ‘violence,’ but you do not intervene.” Many of us have had the same plea.
Thank you again for this necessary piece. As someone who has been there, I urge churches to heed its words.
A Faithful Reader
Competing for the Prize
I appreciated the article about Sean Taylor (“Sean Taylor, Slain NFL Player, Had Adventist Ties”
[Dec. 27. 2008]). It came both as a surprise and a voice of encouragement. While most of us are not athletes, we are all running a race; and sometimes we find ourselves off the course God has chosen for us. It’s a delight to see a young man who, even though he strayed, was loved, blessed, and honored by God in life and death.
As one who has moments when I veer off course or just stop running all together, my desire and will to be closer to Christ are sufficient for Him to straighten my crooked paths and bring peace to my weary soul.
The November 15 issue of the Adventist Review is outstanding. I would be comfortable sharing this magazine with any of my colleagues at Chico State University. I am truly impressed. But I am saddened to know that many of my fellow church members, including pastors, will not experience the excitement and thrill of seeing its enlightened contribution to Adventist thought and culture around the world. My hope is that the changes celebrated in this issue reflect the changed and changing lives of my Adventist friends and family.
One of the unfortunate and unintended consequences of belonging to a church that has the “truth” is that the “official” magazine of the Church is of little interest to a readership interested in honest discussion rather than a reiteration of official theological and devotional articles. There is no incentive for thoughtful readers to read about what they already “know.” Perhaps this is why blogs like mine are popular and increasingly influential.
I review the Review in the hope that what I have to say will improve the quality of the magazine and, as a consequence, motivate readers to get back to reading “The Flagship Journal of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” If this issue is an indication of future journalistic efforts, the Review will become a “must read” for all audiences, and I can spend my time reading it instead of reviewing it.
Adventist Perspective Blog
I Don’t Get It
Rather than explaining how Seinfeld and company may have led a generation astray, the October 18 cover story, “Saving a Seinfeld Generation from Itself,
” offered little as to the show’s influence on viewers as anticipated by the subtitle. Then we were baited by the cover story “Adventists Join the MOB.”
The articles were well-written and informative, but are we resorting to tools of tabloid journalism? Didn’t the apostle write: “Finally, whatever is true . . . noble . . . pure . . . lovely . . . and admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things” (Phil 4:8, NIV)?